Big East expert picks 2021-22: Projected order of finish, bold predictions, overrated and underrated teams

The Big East is coming off, statistically, its weakest season since, well, maybe the 1990s. It’s not just the barely acceptable four bids to the NCAA Tournament (matching lowest the league’s had in three-plus decades). Beyond that, if you go by KenPom.com’s algorithmic evaluation, the Big East ranked No. 6 in 2020-21, matching its lowest standing dating back to the 2001-02 season, when the then-14-team, two-division conference at least sent six teams dancing. 

Are we in for another four-bid run? History suggests no. Since realigning with the Catholic 7 in 2013, the league averages 5.3 NCAA bids, and it’s been the fourth-best league on average in that span. We’ll see. The good news is Villanova should still be elite, giving the conference a bona fide national title contender yet again. In fact, here are my top five Big East storylines heading into the season.

Jay Wright, fresh off his Hall of Fame induction, aims for eighth league title in nine-year spanXavier and UConn vying for No. 2 statusGeorgetown’s curious follow-up to magical Big East Tournament titleShaka Smart tries to reboot Marquette — and his careerExpansion on the horizon with Gonzaga? Wichita State?

That last one would be a biggie if it came to pass during this season. No indication the league definitely will expand (and you can make the argument it shouldn’t), but it’s at least earnestly considering that as an option as we speak. Now let’s get to the awards and predictions.

Big East Preseason Player of the Year

Collin Gillespie, Villanova

The super senior has 118 games, 1,264 points, 361 assists, 304 rebounds, 115 steals, five kinds of league titles and a national championship on his Villanova résumé. He’s heady, yet pugnacious when the situation calls for it. As the undisputed leader of the preseason favorite, Gillespie is the only practical choice for this award heading into November. Teammate…

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